Military Rule Continues in Egypt

Current events have underscored who holds political power in Egypt in the post-Mubarak era.

Events of the last week or so, unfortunately, underscores an important fact for understanding post-Mubarak Egypt:  The Military Still Runs Egypt (as I noted back in June) and that to understanding Mubarak’s ouster, we should Call it What it is: A Military Coup in Egypt (a stance for which I took some flak at the time here from some commenters).

While USAT’s headline on the current news from Egypt has optimistic tone (Egypt’s new prime minister claims more powers) the first portion of the first clause of the first sentence of the piece underscores my position:

Egypt’s military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.

Indeed, the NYT put it more starkly:  “Late Thursday, the generals announced over the state news media that they planned to name a 77-year-old former Mubarak lieutenant, Kamel el-Ganzoury, as the new prime minister…”

The military remains unambiguously in charge at the moment, despite statements like the following:

Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.

In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.

It is quite possible that he does have more powers than his predecessor, but in terms of understanding the unfolding events we cannot ignore the fact that a) he was granted power not by democratic mechanisms, but by authoritarian ones, b)  his whole political career has been within the context of a military regime, and c) Tantawi does not have to remain in charge of the current junta for the military itself to remain the real power in Egypt.

Also, it should be noted that US calls for the military to step down (via the NYTWhite House Urges Egypt’s Military to Yield Power) are not going to be as efficacious as the calls to oust Mubarak.  Getting rid of Mubarak was an act that took out one man (who was nearing the end of his career anyway), whilst removing the military as a central power actor in the Egyptians government would be an act of profound institutional reform and deep regime change.

I am not saying that such change is impossible, but am rather noting what the reality of the situation is.  For true change in a democratic direction to come to Egypt, the hard part remains to be done.  There will have to be real elections of persons to occupy a real parliament which, in turn, will legitimately empower  serious constitutional changes.  From those changes will have to come a true and thorough civilian (and, indeed, elected civilian) control of the military.  At the end of the day real regime change, let alone revolution, is hard (and it has not yet come to Egypt).

I am hopeful that the protests in Egypt will, in fact, lead to liberalization of the political order there.  I simply am trying to note what reality is at the moment and to underscore once again what democratization, specifically, is a difficult process.  At the moment Egypt is clearly post-Mubarak, but it is by no means post-military nor is it post-authoritarian.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Ben Wolf says:

    @ Steven

    I recall several commenters becoming rather incensed at your labeling the transition a military coup. Their arguments never really made much sense.

  2. @Ben Wolf: Indeed. I think one of the guys that was the most upset about the characterization ended up leaving OTB for good.

  3. Wayne says:

    The killing and atrocities against groups of civilians in Libya continues as well. Both Egypt and Libya results were pretty much expected by most that understand that region. Obama and his followers failed to part the seas once again. Big surprise.

  4. Wayne says:

    I still wouldn’t call what initially happen a military coup. The revolution was initiated and mostly carried out by civilian population. It would be like saying the “election” that a general who was elected as President of a Country then took more power than what was initially given to him in the initial election was a military coup.

    FYI the reason many may be leaving is OTB have become almost exclusive a liberal blogger site. Most of the main posters have gone left. What I originally like about OTB was that it was somewhat balance in it bloggers and the main authors. I like hearing both sides of an argument. The main authors here seem to be getting more condescending to those they disagree with which have been mainly the conservative crowd. It is your site and it is your right to do so. If you want a “me to” site, that’s your right. I been meaning to look for a balance site once again also and I’m sure you won’t miss me. You are not the only ones who turned into a partisan site. Some of the other sites I visit have turn into a mostly conservative site.

  5. @Wayne:

    I still wouldn’t call what initially happen a military coup. The revolution was initiated and mostly carried out by civilian population.

    Except that Mubarak was removed by the military and a military junta controlled the country, it was a totally civilian affair….

    As I noted at the time: it is possible that said coup may eventually lead to civilian democracy (indeed, I hope that it does) but that doesn’t change what happened and I think the events described in the post rather clearly underscore who is in charge.